“In 1847 Captain William Wilson, a partner of Knapp Stout & Co., with two other men came up from Menomonie in canoes. Coming up Hay River they traveled up Vance Creek for a short distance and then went overland northeast and came out on the top of the mill bluff which overlooks what is now Prairie Farm.
Captain Wilson saw the level prairie covered only with scrub oak and hazel brush and he said “the prairie farm,” thinking this would be a good place for the Co. to open up a farm, a supply camp and a saw mill.”
Pages from the Past: An early history of Chetek and surrounding communities by Hazel Calhoun
Last Friday I drove down to Prairie Farm, a small village in the southwest part of our county, and spent a good part of the day there. I went because I felt led, maybe even urged, to pray there. As I have relayed in previous posts, for some time now an item on my “bucket list” has been to run every road in Barron County. Inspired by Genesis 13:17 – where Yahweh instructs Abram to “go, walk through the length and breadth of the land” - I have made it my ambition to go and run every public road in the county that I call home. Admittedly, it's going to take me a long time to complete this project (if ever!) but be that as it may, this past Memorial Day I drove the twenty-three miles to Prairie Farm and ran every street in this village of 508 people. All total it was a 5.8 mile run, a short run as mine go. But while running these same streets I felt compelled to return and pray in this village in whatever way God would lead me to pray there. This past Friday became the day to do this.
On my way out of town, I stopped at Kwik Trip to fuel up. After paying for my gas and walking back to my van, I noticed a friend of mine, who was also gassing up, who was waving me over. She was driving a beautiful Corvette that was old enough to deserve a blue license plate. When I got over to her she asked me a question that turned out to be my prayer point for the day, “Do you have any jumper cables?” I quickly checked the back of my van and reported that unfortunately I didn't. She laughed and told me not to worry about it, that she would find someone to give her a jump. As I drove down Highway I, her question continued to roll around in my mind as well as the image of this beautiful sports car, lovingly maintained, surrounded by enough gasoline to keep it running for thousands of miles but dead, stalled, without spark or fire. Was the Spirit of the Lord saying I was being sent to this village to provide a spark or that I was going to meet someone who needed a “jump” or what?Of course, the Spirit is the electrical charge but he needs a conduit to run through so I chose to pray in my prayer language all the way from just outside of Chetek through Dallas and finally to the village limits of Prairie Farm as a way of getting my cables ready, as it were.
|Nice wheels but doesn't move|
|A very nice park|
My first stop was Pioneer Park on the west side of what is referred to as the Prairie Farm flowage, a large recreational area created by the damming of the Hay River here. I had never been to this park before and immediately I was impressed with how clean and well maintained it is. There is a tennis/basket ball court, beautiful playground area, volleyball, swimming as well as an area where they must have tractor or horse pulls (complete with full bleachers). The park has been lovingly decorated with a plethora of wood carvings (a lion, a giraffe, a panther and a lot of bears) made, I presume, by chain saws by local carvers called the Bear Guys (and thus why so many bears). There were only a few campers (and none of them out) and a couple of kids hanging out under one of the picnic shelters. I had brought along my GPS unit and geocacher that I am, decided that the first order of business was to find the cache hid at the park. It gave me a legitimate excuse to explore, which was, in part, what this day was about.
|This was one of my favorite carvings|
|This town has a lot of Panther Pride|
|The Hay River Dam|
I walked the asphalt path to the dam and was impressed with the high bluff to my immediate right. It was beautiful. Near the dam I discovered a path that zig-zagged its way up to the top of the bluff (perhaps the same bluff that Capt Wilson and his small band of discovery stood upon when they first looked upon Prairie Farm?) and following the needle I walked to the north side that looked down upon the camp. It took me awhile to find GZ (probably because of the immense shade) but the clue was enough to help me find the hide if only by process of elimination. By the time I made my way back to the dam, the kids had left so I walked back to my van, grabbed my satchel carrying my Bible and journal and found an isolated picnic table to wait on the Lord.
|Perhaps the same bluff that Capt. Wilson once stood upon?|
While I journaled, a maintenance man busied himself cutting and trimming the grass and cleaning the bathrooms. This may be a small town park but it is clear that Prairie Farm takes pride in it for it is lovingly maintained. Because it it is named Pioneer Park I simply turned to Hebrews 11:1 and read out loud the entire “faith” chapter as well as the first three verses of chapter 12. This became my second prayer point of the day – praying for “the pioneers”, those still faithful servants of God who live within the village who continue to “live by faith” (v. 13) regardless of the fruit they may be seeing. They are stalwart in believing the promises of God. They are “longing for a better country – a heavenly one” (v. 16)
|All these years later...|
Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. (The Message, 11:13-16)
Then I returned to my original prayer-point – those in need of a spiritual “jump” (by the way, when I arrived at Pioneer Park I looked in the back of my van once again and found my cables buried under a lot of junk) – and prayed that any of the “faith-pioneers” in this village who were discouraged or whose faith was flagging that God would give them the spark they needed to continue to live by faith. That they would hear the roar of the great crowd of heaven cheering them on to finish the course they had committed themselves to (Heb 12:1-3).
|At one time it held carillon bells|
Later I decided to drive over to United Lutheran Church (ULC) and see if the pastor was about. Unless there is a small fellowship of people meeting in someone's home, ULC is the only game in town when it comes to a faith community. It is located on River Street and according to their web site was officially named “United” in 1947 when First Lutheran and Solum Lutheran churches consolidated (although there has been a Lutheran presence in Prairie Farm since the 1870s). No one was around so I sat on the bench at the GAR Memorial right next door and spent some time listening and silently praying there. Like the park, ULC is clearly lovingly maintained. It is a beautiful facility and the manner in which its yard, flower beds and grounds are kept up reveal the pride they must take in what God has given them. The fact that the bell from the original building that was destroyed in a fire on Easter Sunday 1964 has a special place on the lawn near their brand new lighted sign speak to me of a faith community that embraces its history, even celebrates it, but at the same time is looking ahead to the future generations of believers who will be discipled within. So, I sat on that bench and prayed for ULC, for the pastor and her family that whatever was stalled, whatever and whoever needed a spiritual jump would be open to the Holy Spirit's empowering work.
As I sat on that bench and looked south down River Street I was struck by the fact that while Prairie Farm is an old town – in fact, it was the very first settlement in Barron County back in 1848 – the trustees of the town, the people of the community, the members of ULC, take pride in their village. Prairie Farm does not have the feel of a small town which reached its nadir “back in the day” but a quiet yet inviting community holding promise to those who choose to make it their home. They have a well maintained nursing home and a beautiful K-12 school and adjoining athletic fields. “Panther Pride” (Prairie Farm HS's mascot is the panther) clearly runs deep here.
While sitting and enjoying the breeze and the view, an elderly woman pulled into ULC's driveway and parked outside the front door. I walked over to her and asked where I might find the pastor. She was very friendly and quickly gave me directions to the parsonage. (I wanted to look inside but not wanting her to be afraid, I didn't ask her.) I drove down River Street in search of the parsonage and when I found it, I couldn't tell if anyone was home so I decided to go in search of another geocache placed near town located out on South Road. It was right near the bridge over the Hay River and though I looked high and low for it, I came up empty (ditto for the one hid over on Brewster Street as well that I had looked for before stopping at ULC). Since it was near lunchtime, I decided to head to the only eatery in town – The Packer Inn.
|Good burgers served here|
The place was near empty except for a guy at the other end of the bar who was busily working on his cheeseburger and checking his smart phone. The TV in the bar was turned to some country western station and the bartender (who I found out shortly was also the owner) was busy in the kitchen. She quietly came out, took my order (I told her I wanted what that guy was eating) and then she returned to the kitchen. The man didn't seem like he was in a talkative mood (and, as I gleaned from his parting conversation with the bartender, not a local) so I left him to his phone and watched the program on television. Admittedly, country music is not my style but my guess is a lot of the folks around here enjoy it enough. I will say that the cheeseburger that the young woman served up to me was by far the best burger I've had in quite a long time. It was no frozen patty microwaved and served on a stale bun but had that fresh-from-the-grill-to-my-plate taste. Yet another pleasant discovery that I made in Prairie Farm that day.
After lunch I decided to stop in at the parsonage, car or no car in the driveway, and see if anyone was about. The pastor was out but her husband was home and very shortly, Burt Schultz, had invited me to share with him what had brought me to their village. Burt, who is also a Lutheran pastor, serving congregations in Glen Flora and Ladysmith, was very open and welcoming. When I tried to console him for being willing to serve in a little knock about place like Glen Flora he was quick to point out that at their recent VBS, over 100 kids had participated. That is very impressive and I felt the Lord gently rebuke me and remind me what Francis Schaeffer had once said, “There are no small places.” Our visit was all of 15-20 minutes and consisted of getting acquainted, sharing about each other's ministries and a few items he suggested I might want to pray for. Other than that very welcoming senior citizen outside of ULC (Nellie is her name I learned later), Burt was the first person from Prairie Farm I had met that day and before I left his home we prayed together.
After I left the Schultz's, I decided to drive over to Sprague Street and do some prayer walking. Thanks to Hazel Calhoun's Pages from the Past: An early history of Chetek and surrounding communities (a copy of which sits near my journal in my office), I learned that Sprague Street is named after Ike Sprague, a guy who came to Prairie Farm in 1862 when he was only 20 years old. In time, he became the foreman of Knapp Stout & Co's operations in Prairie Farm. He later became the Postmaster as well. According to Hazel (who quotes The History of Barron Coutny published in 1922):
He [Ike] took a prominent part in the incorporation of the village and served as president of its first board of trustees.
|Looking down Ike's Street|
I felt led to walk his street and as soon as I began to walk the worship song “Indescribable” began to run in my head. As I walked I more hummed it than sang it as I couldn't recall all the words. I walked as far as Allan, walked a block east and then walked south again on Bluff all the while praying in the spirit or quietly singing this song. There were a gaggle of people at one home laughing and chatting away at the end of their driveway but they didn't acknowledge me so I just kept on walking. For the third time that day, however, I was struck by the sense of self-respect that was evident in the citizens of this village for so many of the homes I passed were lovingly maintained.
When I returned to the van, I decided to drive back out to Pioneer Park. When I got there, I grabbed my satchel as well as my guitar and sat under the picnic shelter closest to the river and began to worship the Lord there. “Let the River Flow”, “Shine, Jesus, Shine”, “Shout to the Lord”, “Your Love Oh Lord”, “Indescribable” and “How Great Is Our God” was my selection. The words of the songs became my intercession for Prairie Farm
|Worship by the river|
“Let the river flow,
Let river flow,
Holy Spirit, come
Move with power.
Let the river flow,
Let the river flow,
Holy Spirit, come
Move with power...”
(from “Let the River Flow” by Darnell Harris)
And so, right there near the shore of the Hay River, I prayed for an increase of the flow of the Holy Spirit in this community. This old, beautifully maintained village, the very first to be established in Barron County, needs a jump. There's nothing wrong with the engine. Nothing wrong with the transmission that a little spark can't cure. So I prayed for fresh fire, fresh juice from above.
Before I left town, I decided to make one more attempt at finding the caches hid on Brewster and South. And in short order I did. The thing is both caches had been staring me in the face and I had overlooked them on my previous attempts, thinking to find something different. But the Lord reminded me that appearances can be deceiving – and so can judgments. It's easy for others to discredit the great work of God that may be going on in a small community simply because it's small (like me discrediting God's work in Glen Flora – echoes of Nathaniel's scoffing “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” - not realizing that there is a vibrant faith community there who has a heart to influence children and are doing that capitally.) And its all relative. The guy serving in Eau Claire, perhaps, can make an assumption that nothing really can be going on in a small town like Chetek just like I may be guilty of making the same assessment of what may be going on in a place the size of Prairie Farm. But there are interesting discoveries to be made if only we have eyes to see them. Which is the invitation the Holy Spirit extends to us, “Come and see” (John 1:47).